Sunday, 9 June 2013

Sole Saver | by Christian Hilton

My name is Christian; and I’m an addict; Of footwear; Of a particular brand of footwear. One of the UK’s oldest and most celebrated shoemakers. A name most people have had some connection with since childhood. C & J Clark International Ltd. Just plain Clarks to you and me.

Maybe writing this piece for ACM will be cathartic and allow me to finally let go of this ‘addiction’ which has been part of my life for most of my adult years. Then again, I doubt it. A prolonged sojourn into the realms of Adi in the late ’90’s and into the 2000’s didn't keep me from returning to the ‘suede upper and crepe soled’ goodness of Clarks and their 'Originals' label.

So where does this brand loyalty and love come from?  It can only be the past. Trying to cling in some small way to what’s gone before: as a kid being measured up ‘properly’ by the starchy dressed shop assistants and that machine - like something from the robotic future - that your young mind thought might crush your feet. Or maybe it’s ’89 - ’91 ‘Baggy era’ seeing Wallabees work so well with flared jeans, floral prints and tees on lads enjoying their ‘Summers of Love’. Then again it could be ’95 seeing the Gallagher's - before putting their name to Adi models - wearing 'Treks' and 'Desert Boots' (hard to believe now, but at some point we did look at them as knowing how to dress) or ’97 with Ashcroft iconically representing the 'Wallee' on the cover of 'Urban Hymns' or in the video for 'Bitter Sweet Symphony'.  Mad Richard gave the 'Wallabee' attitude. 

I know others got to my position of Clarks Love via different cultural routes - 'Wu Tang' for example; many hip-hop kids have never shied away from showing their love for the Clarks Booty.

So where am I now?  Well, one thing I'm not is a ‘collector’I'm a buyer, an admirer and wearer. I'm not precious about the shoes I have. I wear them. Consume them. Use them. Some are kept in their boxes, others not.  None are really put on a pedestal.

I have nowt but utmost respect for those who over the last decade or so have sourced, cleaned up and repaired vintage ‘Made in England’ or ‘Made in Ireland’ Clarks; and I'm not saying I wouldn't love to own a cupboard full of ‘Pristine Shoe Porn’ like that. But I haven’t. What I have got, just like loads of you reading this is an expanding wardrobe full of Originals. Current count - 30(ish).

I'm lucky via location in that I live close to the (still) Street, Somerset based HQ of Clarks and with it the ‘potential’ goldmine of the outlet store.  Since moving here in ’99 I think back fondly of the gems I picked up and all at half RRP. Most of which are now long gone; worn to death and then discarded in the folly of youth. I have still got a couple of pairs from that time - 'Made in England' 'Treks' in sand suede, and a 'Made in Ireland' pair of 'Natalies' - shot to pieces, but having learnt my lesson of getting rid too quick, will never now let go.

So, favourite pairs?  Well, I love both the Oi Polloi edition 'Wallabees' from last year. What looked on first picture view as no great shakes, was as soon as you felt them and the quality suppleness of that ‘Unicorn’ (Elk leather) upper a truly great shoe. The choice of colour-ways wasn't half bad either.  'Wasabi' for the win for me. 

I'm a big lover of the ‘Polyveldt’ line of shoes - polyurethane soles and leather uppers - and of these, the 2 classics I'm most proud wearing are the 'Tan' 'Oberon' and 'Sand Leather' 'Ramblers'. Shoes which bring back an instant mental image of the mid 70‘s. Geography Teacher Chic of the highest order.

It’s this ability to access their extensive archive and bring life back to these lost ‘ugly-beautiful’ classics which I'm chuffed to see Originals running with and developing (As they did this season with the mighty 'Edgar Way'). With that in mind, I'm really excited by the brief view I've seen on some blogs of the AW'13 range, in particular the 'Wallabee Ridge' (reissue of the Deep Country / Caravan model) which alongside the 'Seam Trek' (an amalgamation of the best bits of a Rambler and Trek) see this reinterpretation of ‘classics’ returning.

Don’t get me wrong, I'm not oblivious to some of the ‘failings’ of the brand. Just because it’s designed and produced by Clarks Originals, doesn't mean I’ll buy it. I know the ‘Hipster Youth Market Sector’ needs to be reached, but older Connoisseurs mustn't be forgotten. In some areas I do believe quality could be improved, and to have a standard 'Wallabee' shape between Europe & The US would be ace.  In addition in these increasingly ‘Local’ times, how good would it be to have a 'Made In England' run of the classics - Desert Boot, Wallabee, Desert Trek for example all made to original specs?!

But no; this heartfelt piece hasn't cleansed me of my Clarks addiction. I do, increasingly lust after other shoes I see from different brands; especially those with a historical tale or material story to tell. But it’s Clarks Originals where my heart lies, and with which I’ll keep on keeping on.CH 

Guest post by Christian Hilton (@HiltonShoegazer)


  1. well gee whizz that's quite a collection. i myself are really looking forward to the seam trek, the company i work for has bought that style along with several others. i have 4 pairs, i'm really after the desert trek anniversary edition next. waiting for the sales as i usually do. great post.

  2. Great read, thank you. I'm a massive fan of Clarks Originals, i don't own anywhere near a many as yourself roundabout nine pairs. Clarks Originals shoes/boots are an absolute pleasure to wear. Love them.

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